Writings and observations

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Former Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman and Casino Executive (1994-2006) David Matheson, is back in a seat of prominence, his old job as Casino executive, after five years of acrimonious litigation full of charges and counter-charges the press shouldn’t repeat because there were no verdicts and no real conclusions.

Any observer of Native Americans, or anyone who has business or political dealings with tribes as an entity quickly learns the internal politics of any tribe are as Byzantine and as complex as any politics anywhere. If one has not been raised in that culture one cannot begin to understand the machinations.

Even if one could understand the complexities of the various family and clan relationships, one would need a scorecard to comprehend the inner workings, which family is up and which is down, why some view an education in the college’s of the white conquerors as a negative not a positive, why children can be raised by an entire village successfully, why the native religion can absorb the teachings of the Jesuit missionaries.

Suffice it to say to outward appearances the Matheson family is back in the saddle of real power. Whether that is at the expense of some other powerful family, which is now out, who outside can say? Those that do know won’t say, one can bet on that.

One can also say most Native Americans are acutely aware of public perceptions; more so than other minorities because in many cases they have been victimized by the hokey Indian stereotypes that exist in our culture.

David Matheson has over the years proven to be a savvy operator. He obviously is a survivor and one can wager though outward appearances may be he cares little about public perceptions in fact he is acutely aware of how important they can be.

Matheson, in many respects, is a rarity among Native leaders, but one of those is that he is a Republican. Most Native Americans have tended to identify with Democrats. Indeed, the first Native American ever elected to the Idaho State Senate, a Coeur d’Alene Tribal member by the name of Chief Joseph Garry, was a Democrat.

Matheson, though, aligned with Republicans early in his career. When Ronald Reagan’s vice president, George H. W. Bush, was elected to the Presidency in November of 1988, Matheson headed for D.C. Initially he was appointed as a special assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Eddie Frank Brown, who soon realized that Matheson had the talent and ability to manage the entire 14,000 employee Bureau of Indian Affairs. Matheson also was obtaining his Masters in Business Administration from the University of Washington (1989).

After 14 months at Interior, Matheson was named by then Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan, in May of 1991, as the Deputy Commissioner of Indian Affairs for Administration, the second most powerful position within Indian Affairs. Almost all accounts give Matheson high marks for his management. No one who has met or dealt with David Matheson questions his intelligence or competency.

For that reason, and because almost all Republicans invoke their sainted Irish president, Ronald Reagan, constantly, we want to remind Matheson that the truest and wisest words the Gipper ever uttered were: “Trust but verify!”

How does that relate to today? Quite easily.

With Matheson having been reappointed to his old job as Casino executive director on August 9th, he has the opportunity to start anew with, as the tribal press release said, a “second chance” to do well by all who depend upon the Casino’s success.

A great start for the casino and the tribe would be embracing true transparency with regard to tribal gaming revenues. Matheson was among those who campaigned hard for the voter initiative expanding Indian gaming to include slot like machines, and he knows one of the keys to the vote was the pledge to return annually five percent of the net revenues to surrounding school districts.

Of late there have been serious questions raised as to whether the tribe was really doing so. And the tribe is taking the position of saying “trust us, we’ve delivered on the pledge.” I’m sorry, my friends, that doesn’t fly anywhere anymore.

To restore both the Tribe’s credibility and his own, Matheson has to put the Casino in the forefront of truth-tellers by hiring independent outside auditors to review the annual gaming receipts, then verify what 5 percent would be, and then the Tribe can distribute it as they see fit, but with full disclosure of the amounts.

There’s a lot more action needed on the “verification” piece of Ronald Reagan’s wise injunction. One hopes Matheson and current Tribal leadership recognize sound advice when it is offered.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris Carlson served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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Carlson Idaho

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Look out, Lt. Governor Brad Little (Or substitute Schools Superintendent Tom Luna, or Rep. Raul Labrador—whoever your favorite is). You may think you’re the “crown prince” and next in line to be the Republican dynasty’s governor of Idaho, but the best politician in the state may be maneuvering to snatch that crown from your grasp and place it squarely on his head of distinguished white hair.

He has never held a political office in Idaho, but all the state’s major players know him. He is unquestionably the state’s best fund-raiser. He holds degrees in political science and demonstrates daily that he understands politics, especially the “rule” that perception is reality.

He reads books and can really talk about them. For nine years he has demonstrated mastery of one of the most politicized jobs in any state.

He is of course Bob Kustra, president of Idaho’s largest university, Boise State. He demonstrated again this month that even at age 68 he is on top of his game.

The evidence clearly shows he is a master practitioner of politics which leads one to wonder if his ambition has truly been satisfied? A yearning for high public office may still linger in his breast. It also goes far toward unraveling the mystery of why now he sacked loyal and long-time Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier.

It was as astute a pro-active, pre-emptive political move as any have seen in awhile. Odds are better than even that Kustra already knows or strongly suspects severe sanctions may be coming down for violations of various NCAA rules by not just Boise State’s nationally ranked football team, but in other sports also.

Among Kustra’s duties is that of Mountain West Conference representative on the NCAA Board of Directors. He also is a member of the BCS’s Oversight Committee. Obviously, it would look bad to be sitting in upcoming meetings not having taken action until after sanctions came down.

Far better to act quickly and decisively before any scandal possibly taints him, as well. So the AD walks the plank, perhaps deservedly, but who really knows? Governor Andrus had an expression derived from the English essayist, Samuel Johnson, which covered these situations: “Nothing like a hanging in the morning to focus one’s attention!”

It is easy also to envision Kustra seeing a governor in the mirror each morning. Few folks in Idaho know that Bob Kustra mastered the Byzantine politics of Illinois, serving ten years in the Legislature before being elected Lt. Governor twice serving on a ticket with Governor Jim Edgar, one of the few Illinois governors NOT to be indicted in recent years.

Any one who runs for Lt. Governor thinks he can be governor, but usually has to bide his time under a more popular person. But “lieutenants” are anxious to drop the “LT” in front of their title—just ask Butch Otter, Phil Batt, Jim Risch and John Evans, as well as Brad Little.

Kustra’s “up or out move,” however, came in his 1996 bid for a Senate seat. He lost in the GOP primary to someone named Al Salvi. He resigned the Lt. Governorship a few months later and plunged full-time into buttressing his academic administration credentials by accepting the presidency of Eastern Kentucky University.

In 2003 he was named president of Boise State and the school hasn’t been the same since.. As a savvy politician he understands the importance of perception as well as marketing and planning. The BSU football team was already on the rise but he watched carefully and supported taking it to the next level and the next as a true key to ensuring the school’s status as the major university in the state and its largest population center.

Kustra reportedly drives staff hard, and is a stickler for detail, but he does his homework, knows his game plan and knows how to stay on message. Though some scoff at BSU’s academic pretensions, he has worked to upgrade admission standards and expand research and PhD. Offerings. Make no mistake, if there had not been progress on this front BSU never would have been invited to the Mountain West.

He also settled on tagging BSU (He insists everyone always refer to the school as Boise State University) as a “metropolitan research university of distinction.” The Carnegie Institute, which rates the nation’s schools and colleges has no such category and indeed does not even rank BSU in the top three tiers. Nonetheless, perception is reality, as Kustra knows.

Finally, he is coming off the most successful fund-raising campaign in Idaho history, having raised $175 million in private donations and this is separate from the drive to expand Bronco Stadium. Nothing succeeds like success.

I’m willing to wager that after ten years as Boise State president, there’s an itch in Bob Kustra to heal over by capping his career with the long desired title of Governor, knowing that nothing does quite succeed as well as success. Brad Little just may have a real fight on his hands.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris Carlson served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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Carlson Idaho

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

So why do students of Idaho political history, and the 30 men who have been its governor, rank the former town-doctor of St. Maries, C.A. Robins, so highly?

To put the answer in medical terms, he wrote needed prescriptions that are still bearing results 60 years after his single four-year term (1946-1950) that governors were then allowed. Many of the advances and reforms he pushed came out of his first legislative session as governor in 1947, a session that long-time Idaho political player and observer Perry Swisher ranks along with the 1965 session as the most accomplished in Idaho’s history.

For openers, take his solid support for public education where he achieved comprehensive reforms, unlike several of his Republican successors, including current Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter. Governor Robins found Idaho bursting with 1,118 school districts in 1946. With the help of the Legislature, hundreds of small school districts were consolidated into less than 200, saving property taxpayers money in unnecessary overhead costs.

In 1947 he also obtained a significant increase in pay for teachers, appalled that Idaho’s teachers were then the poorest paid in the nation. (Some things, though, don’t change, with Idaho teachers again being ranked near the nation’s bottom in base pay.)

He was a major driving force for the transformation of the University of Idaho-Southern Branch into a stand alone Idaho State College independent of the University of Idaho. That set the precedent for the emergence of Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston and the stage for the transformation of Boise Junior College in the early 60’s into Boise State College.

One could argue that with 20/20 hindsight Idaho would have been better off to have stayed with a one university system structure, but that opportunity is long gone.

The politically savvy governor obviously had a great bedside manner. Having been the Senate president during his third legislative term from Benewah County, he knew how to work constructively with lawmakers to achieve passage of needed legislation. He was elected to a fourth term and surely would have been returned to the Senate presidency but resigned before the session commenced rather than leave St. Maries without any doctor. The other doctor in town had left during the time between his election to a fourth term and the beginning of the session in January of 1945.

As Idaho’s governor, he was the force behind the creation of the Department of Labor, the State Tax Commission, the first State Building program, and reformed and modernized the worker’s compensation system. He also abolished the Board of Pardons and replaced it with the three-member Board of Corrections with the purpose of providing more professional management of corrections.

Additionally, he de-politicized the State Highway Department, making it an independent agency that previously had operated as a patronage system in which loyal party workers were given the job of maintaining highways in local areas and knew they could keep their jobs if they worked hard on the campaigns of winning gubernatorial candidates.

It was during Doc Robins tenure that the Snake River Compact with Wyoming was negotiated which became the basis for subsequent Idaho water law and policy.

According to Steve Crump, the opinion page editor of the Twin Falls Times-News (and to whom I am indebted for help in compiling this list), without access to Jackson Lake “the Magic Valley wouldn’t be so magic.” Crump also wonders whether the Bureau of Reclamation would have built the Palisades Dam without the compact first having been in place.

Being from northern Idaho, “Doc” did support legalized gambling, a vice that had been tolerated during World War II and well into the 1950’s. Debate over legalizing gambling continued to be a factor in Idaho politics until the last pro-gambling candidate, Lewiston’s Phil Jungert, lost in 1966 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

According to Crump, Robins did not shy away from letting property taxes rise to accomplish the things he wanted to get done. Had he not been term-limited, one could easily speculate he might have accomplished some of the things Governor Robert Smylie, achieved during his 12 year tenure, which followed Robins’ successor, Len. B. Jordan.

In particular, Robins probably would have successfully pushed a sales tax to support education much earlier than the 1965 year in which the Legislature and then the voters (in 1966) finally sanctioned one.

By today’s political standards, Doc Robins’ record of achievement looks more like that of a Democrat, not a Republican. Times do change though.

One other significant accomplishment should be noted. He was the first major political figure to recognize Louise Shadduck’s talent, making her his executive assistant. Her progressive attitudes obviously influenced him.

As Idaho political junkies know, Shadduck had a long career in Idaho politics, serving as Bob Smylie’s first director of what became the Idaho Department of Commerce, working for Senator Henry Dworshak, serving as chief of staff for Second District Congressman Orval Hansen, heading up the first Idaho Forestry Association while nurturing a number of Idaho’s successful Republican officeholders.

She died in Coeur d’Alene a few years ago, her passing mourned by many. Sadly, that stood in marked contrast to her mentor’s funeral services. When C.A. Robbins died in Lewiston on September 20, 1970, only a few medical colleagues and family were in Lewiston’s Episcopal Church of the Nativity for the services.

The only politicians at his services were Louise; an aide to Senator Frank Church on loan to Cecil Andrus’ gubernatorial campaign, Marty Peterson; the last elected Mines Inspector, O.T. Hansen, and then Governor Don Samuelson. There should have been many more.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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Carlson Idaho

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Let’s engage in one of those exercises where one speculates history taking a different course. Let’s imagine that for one day you could be any one of the 30 men who have been Idaho’s governor. Who would you choose and what would you do?

To no one’s surprise this scribe would choose four-term Governor Cecil D. Andrus.

What I would have done, though, may surprise. But it would have been in the best interests of the taxpayers, higher education and the city of Pocatello. The date of this action would have been sometime in the week following the November 1994 election of Phil Batt as my successor.

In utmost secrecy, I would have loaded the state plane with Governor-elect Batt, his defeated rival for the governorship, Attorney General Larry Echohawk, then Idaho House Speaker Mike Simpson, and then Senate President Jerry Twiggs, and flown to Salt Lake City.

There we would have met with the appropriate authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and negotiated the sale of Idaho State University to the Church.

Under this scenario, ISU would have become BYU-Idaho, and RicksCollege in Rexburg would have remained a two-year feeder college for BYU-Provo and BYU-Idaho.

About to leave me? Stop a minute and think about how much better the entities involved would have been. There would be no losers in this deal.

What we have today is a major state university in an under-funded higher education system with declining enrollment – a trend that will continue as the converted Ricks College continues to grow at the expense of ISU. BYU-Idaho already has exceeded ISU in enrollment.

At the beginning of 2011 at BYU-Idaho total enrollment (full-time and part-time students) was 14,100 students, up from the previous year’s total of 13,375. At ISU, it was 12,595 down from the previous year’s number of 14,209.

One could easily look over the horizon 15 years ago and see this coming. Ricks was undergoing phenomenal growth as many LDS “returned missionaries” were either starting or resuming their education following conclusion of their two-year callings. It is no coincidence that the Rexburg Journal and Standard contained an unusually high number of engagement notices and marriage announcements.

Some contend many college-bound Mormon young women being more intent on obtaining their “MRS” instead of their “BS” degree in a culture that encourages young women to find eligible husbands among the ranks of those having returned from missions. Regardless, Ricks was clearly growing by leaps and bounds.

In the meantime, on the other side of Idaho, Boise State was rapidly expanding, as well. With the University of Idaho ensconced as the state’s leading research university and “flagship” school of the system, internecine fighting for state dollars was on the rise.

Despite a supposed unified State Board of Education overseeing all of Idaho’s universities and colleges, the political realities were clear. Boise State inevitably would receive more and more of the state allocation and it would come at the expense primarily of ISU as the legislative supporters of the booming Treasure Valley and the established north Idaho took care of the “home” schools first.

For its part Boise State, embarked on a path of cultivating athletic success rather than scholastic excellence (“A football team in search of a university,” as one colleague put it), and has been rewarded with far more alumni donations and private corporate contributions than ISU could ever hope to match.

Assume LDS Church authorities in Salt Lake would have seen the logic in having an already built up institution negating plans to expand in a smaller almost out-of-the-way community. What would they have paid for ISU? Probably in the range of $100 million at the time.

How much further Idaho would be ahead today, as well as the renamed ISU and Pocatello itself, if that had occurred? As the Church’s primary higher education institution in Idaho, ISU would be more financially secure, larger and off the taxpayers’ back. Even President Arthur C. Vailas’ dream of having a medical school would be more achievable.

There would be more state dollars to divide among the remaining institutions. And there would have been $100 million to put into the State Building Fund, earmarked for future higher education needs.

Such an unprecedented move would have had some difficult hurdles to overcome, not the least of which would be legalities involving contracts negotiated between a public institution and its various employees being turned over to a private entity. All would have been surmountable.

All, that is, except the political realities. Somewhere, someone would have filed a lawsuit and another perfectly rational idea in the public interest would have foundered on the altar of one group’s self-interest. Sound familiar?

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Carlson Idaho

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

“Benewah County has an opportunity which may never come this way again.” – St. Maries Gazette Record, June 6, 1946

The above item was the last point in a campaign ad for C.A. “Doc” Robins, a former three-term Benewah County State Senator running for the 1946 Republican gubernatorial nomination.

The 61-year-old Robins easily defeated former two-term Idaho Governor C.A. “Bott” Bottolfsen in the primary and went on to defeat incumbent Governor Arnold Williams by a landslide in November.

Robins was the first governor of Idaho from the northern part of the state in more than 50 years and surely will be, as the ad suggests, the only governor with ties to Benewah County ever.

Ask people on the streets of St. Maries today who “Doc” Robins was and the vast majority don’t have a clue. There is no sign as one enters St. Maries that it used to be the hometown of arguably one of the most influential people in Idaho’s political history. Nor is there any notice erected anywhere in the county.

And that’s a shame.

Robins, a physician, was not only a fine governor, by all accounts he also was a warm, wonderful human being who cared deeply about his patients, was always approachable and certainly possessed an exceptional bedside manner. He delivered most of the babies born in the county for many years.

His fellow state senators elected him that body’s president for the 1943 session of the Idaho Legislature. Re-elected to a fourth consecutive term in 1944, he surely would have been elected its president again. But he resigned from the Senate rather than leave St. Maries without any doctor, which would have been the case had he attended the 1945 legislative session.

Politically, 1946 was an incredibly important year with electoral outcomes heavily influencing the future of the state and its politics. The epoch-changing events began with the death of Republican U.S. Senator John Thomas on Nov. 10, 1945.

On Nov. 17 Democratic Governor Charles Gossett resigned as governor, an act which elevated his Lieutenant Governor, Arnold Williams, to the governorship. Williams then appointed Gossett to the vacant Senate seat. The gamesmanship did not set well with the voters in part because Williams became Idaho’s first Mormon governor at a time when there was still a bias against members of the LDS church, particularly among north Idahoans.

Idaho’s other U.S. Senator, the “Singing Cowboy,” Democrat Glen Taylor, a charismatic progressive (he would become Henry Wallace’s running mate on the 1948 presidential ballot) had been elected in 1944.

When Democrat George Donart, a Boise attorney, decided to challenge the former governor, Taylor threw his support to Donart. Returning to Idaho two weeks before the June primary, Taylor stumped the state for 11 straight days making 40 appearances that carried Donart to a 3000 vote victory over Gossett.

Second District Congressman Henry Dworshak easily won the Republican nomination. In November, he also won the Senate seat back for the GOP, defeating Donart by almost the same margin “Doc” Robins had accumulated over Governor Williams.

Governor Robins was the first to serve under a new law that provided a governor serve only one four-year term. He accomplished much during that one term (the subject of a future column) and easily could have won re-election. Instead, he was succeeded by the more conservative former Hells Canyon sheep rancher and then Grangeville auto dealer, Len B. Jordan.

Though the Legislature again changed the governor’s term of office during Jordan’s one term, to unlimited consecutive terms, Jordan declined to seek a second term saying the voters had elected him in 1950 thinking he would serve just one term and he felt honor-bound by that vote not to seek a second term.

“Doc” also began a 24-year Republican stranglehold on the governorship that was finally broken in 1970 by Cecil Andrus. And Andrus’ lieutenant governor, John V Evans, who succeeded Andrus, became the first Mormon ever elected governor when he won his first full-term in 1978.

The modern era of Idaho governors, though, all began with the 1946 election of the decent, talented medical doctor from St. Maries, C. A. “Doc” Robins.

The endorsement of Robins’ candidacy in a line above the Gazette-Record’s masthead in that same June 6th issue said it all: “Disregard Party Lines and Vote for Dr. C.A. Robins for Governor.”

By a two to one margin in both the primary and general election, Benewah county voters did, as did voters statewide.

(Editor’s note: The G-R is holding a “drop by” open house on August 4th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for folks with personal memories or stories of “Doc” Robins to come and share them with Chris and Dan Hammes. Stories, letters and photos may be used in a “Doc” Robins Retrospective being prepared for publication in September.)

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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Carlson Idaho

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Indulge me in a rant about interest group questionnaires and the absurd length contained therein to ensure a candidate is a purist before he or she can receive the group’s nod, its mailing list and a donation from its PAC.

Were we not taught in civics classes that we are a republic with the people electing representatives “hired” to use their intelligence and commonsense to weigh complicated matters most of us don’t have time to study and then decide what the greatest good is for the greatest number?

Instead, many interest groups only want an automaton, a robot that will vote their way on issues of import to their agenda 100 percent of the time. Use your own judgment? Heaven forbid. Our representative is supposed to be bought and paid for, according to various interests across the spectrum, and stay bought and paid for.

A friend running for a municipal office in the state of Washington recently sent me the questionnaire from Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, the political action committee that doles out contributions to those it views sympathetic to its women’s health and reproductive rights, including the right to an abortion.

Instructions made it clear every question had to be answered, that “yes” or “no” had to be circled on every question, and incomplete responses would be interpreted as “refused to respond.” Where do these people (I’m referring to all such groups) come off thinking that intensely personal, private issues influenced by one’s value system and beliefs can be reduced down to black and white “yes” or “no?”

The late baseball commissioner, Barlett Giamatti (a former president of Yale), said it best: “There are many who lust for the simple answers of doctrine or decree. They are on the left and right. They are not confined to a single part of society. They are terrorists of the mind.”

He points out many people have a hard time dealing with the tough ragged edges of life, the many gray areas that confront one. But that’s the real world, and he is politely saying “deal with reality.” Don’t take refuge in ideology and demagoguery.

Interest group zealots also are fond of falling into what Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called the “fallacy of the either/or,” as in you are either “with us or against us,” most recently spouted by President George W. Bush in telling the rest of the world his view regarding the war on terrorism.

How hard is it to understand and gird ourselves against taking refuge in such simplicities? Because our mind boggles at the increasing complexity of daily living, we begin to imagine a simpler time, to yearn to make life, which increases in complexity each day at screeching hyperbolic rate, into simpler fare we think we can handle. So we categorize and pigeon-hole with generalizing labels that miss the nuances that are part of this challenging world.

Interest group questionnaires are one such manifestation of this. For example, what does one’s position on President Obama’s health care reform law have to do with running for mayor or city council? What does running for a municipal office have to do with whether one supports or opposes sex education in public schools? Isn’t that a matter for parents and/or school boards?

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney deserves an “atta boy” from all for refusing recently to sign a gay-bashing group’s pledge asking for undying support for marriage as between one man and one woman. As a devout member of the LDS Church that, of course, is his belief, but he refused to sign the Tea Party led pledge because of its intemperate language, which he correctly said was beneath the dignity of the office he seeks.

The “Tea Party” zealots of the Republican party, especially as it’s reshaping Republican politics in eastern Idaho, are spearheading a new, even kookier form of “the Pledge” which demands that any candidate for any office in Idaho promise absolute and complete fealty to every plank in the party’s platform.

Thinking for one’s self will not be permitted. Thus, if one wants their endorsement he or she has to endorse repealing the 17th amendment, which provides for direct election of senators by the voters. These kooks want to return electing senators to a state senate where their ability to target contributions will bring more influence and assure more compliant U.S. senators. That’s really in the public interest, isn’t it?

Every time I see one of these questionnaires, I wonder why a candidate would even waste his or her time to fill out the damn thing. I feel genuinely sorry for those who have such a simplistic view of life and the world.

And I keep praying to God to save us from the zealots of the world. And may those who love these litmus tests of purity shove their questionnaires where the sun doesn’t shine!

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The latest national Gallup poll on social attitudes reports a new number one issue that most divides the American public. For years the issue has been abortion. Today it is physician assisted suicide (PAS).

While 48 percent of the respondents said the matter was “morally objectionable all the time,” some 45 percent said it could be morally acceptable.

The issue has gained sufficient attention that the nation’s Catholic bishops finally issued a policy statement deploring its increased public acceptance at their annual summer meeting in June in Bellevue, Washington.

It is an eloquent statement, worth reading. It provides effective counter-arguments to those made by PAS supporters that the issue is a matter of “choice” and “compassion.” Sadly, it fails to grasp that one cannot effectively counter an emotional appeal rooted in the fear many have of dying with rational appeals. The challenge is to find an emotional appeal that resonates more forcefully with the public, regardless of whether one believes in God and an Afterlife, and one rooted in hope rather than despair.

Opponents of abortion on demand finally figured this out and began to turn the tide when they started running ads featuring the child at 20 weeks in the womb, with a beating heart and already human form. Those ads made an emotional connection that underscored their message. Consequently, it put abortion supporters on the defensive by casting would-be mothers who use abortion as a contraceptive or simply don’t want to accept the responsibility for a consensual act of sex that produces a third life as being selfish and willing to sacrifice the life of a child because of inconvenience.

Physician assisted suicide is an equally complex issue, which most folks instinctively see purely in their own context. Many can see themselves taking a premature departure if they feel they are being made to suffer unendurable pain, or have become a burden on their families.

Preaching about viewing life as ending only with natural death, trusting God and recognizing that there is Grace in allowing families assisting one through the final transition carries little weight with some, especially non-believers, and those who don’t attend church on a regular basis, which is especially so in the Pacific Northwest, a region known for its religious independence.

Too many people fail to recognize one of life’s major goals is the acceptance of an end and the mastering of a philosophy that helps us learn how to die. Our natural inclination is to want to live and breathe as long as we can. Throughout history, many cultures have viewed suicide as an unnatural, anti-life, selfish act that almost always passes on an individual’s personal pain to loved ones.

Few people argue against one’s ability–as opposed to a right–to end his or her life. Where the issue gets sticky is when proponents say physicians, counter to the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, should be allowed (and someday, mandated) to provide one with the drugs they can ingest to kill themselves. The doctor doesn’t have to witness the death. In fact, no one has to witness the death under Washington’s voter adopted law.

What we have though is the state laying out the criteria (terminally ill, less than six months to live) by which a doctor can write the prescription. If the patient avails themselves of this doctor-explained option (how many may hear obligation, not option?), the law further mandates the doctor signing the death certificate has to list the underlying disease as the cause of death not the lethal dose of drugs.

That is a stretch at best and a lie at worst. There’s something intrinsically wrong with a law that mandates skirting the truth about the cause of death.

In reviewing the bishop’s statement not only was the emotional counter-argument missing, it also lacked an “Action Plan” or even a commitment to develop one that would educate Catholic laity and the general public as to why supporting PAS is truly not in either their or society’s best interest.

Most recognize the title of this essay from Hamlet’s famous soliloquy on whether to commit suicide in William Shakespeare’s play of the same name. There’s another line in that play that reminds one of the futility of not linking words to action.

King Laertes, who has stolen the crown from his brother, Hamlet’s father, by murdering the brother and then marrying his now widowed sister-in-law, is on his knees praying in the chapel asking for God’s forgiveness.

He rises up and says to the audience: “My words rise up; my thoughts stay below. Words without thought to heaven do not go.”

Bishops, listen up.

Chris Carlson was given less than six months to live in November of 2005 when he contracted a rare form of terminal carcinoid neuroendocrine cancer. He obviously is still with us. His objection to PAS led him to the chairmanship of the statewide campaign against I-1000, a Washington state initiative approving PAS that voters passed in 2008.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Those who think the days of Native American tribes fighting other Native American tribes are long gone, best think again. The advent of and phenomenal growth in Indian gaming has created a division of haves – the tribes with revenue producing and political powerful casinos – and the have nots.

Gaming tribes in Idaho, the Coeur d’Alenes, the Nez Perce, and the Shoshone/Bannock, appear to have natural markets where there is no real competition. They appear at peace with neighboring tribes.

You see the Coeur d’Alenes unveiling a new $100 million dollar upgrade in their hotel and casino in May, the Nez Perce moving into a lovely new wooden structure instead of operating out of the huge circus tent that was the prior base, and the ShoBans unveiling their new facility.

Where the warfare begins is when two tribes relatively near to each other decide to co-locate casinos. It becomes especially vicious if one tribe perceives the other as encroaching and there is a belief that the market cannot sustain two enterprises.

The best example of this is the not so subtle contest between the Kalispells and the Spokanes in eastern Washington. The Kalispells built and operate the fabulously successful Northern Quest Casino in Airway Heights, just outside of Spokane. A small tribe with a land base of just a few square miles, the Kalispells petitioned the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and the Washington governor’s office for permission in the 1990’s to buy some off-reservation land and to have it declared Indian trust territory and part of their reservation.

Once that was completed, they found investors, struck up an arrangement with a Las Vegas gaming management outfit and built their casino which is now in the midst of a several hundred million dollar expansion.

From their much larger reservation, the Spokanes looked on with envy. They had earlier constructed a smaller casino at Two Rivers (where the Spokane flows into the Columbia at the reservoir behind the Grand Coulee Dam). Two Rivers was reportedly successful, but once Northern Quest was up and going, revenue rapidly diminished and eventually the casino operated on a reduced schedule.

Using the old principle of what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, the Spokanes decided to travel the same path as the Kalispells. The Spokanes, of course, were hoping the Kalispells would see competition as healthy and beneficial for both.

Wishful thinking.

The Spokanes quietly purchased land in Airway Heights and are seeking to declare it to be trust land also. As mentioned, the process requires the explicit approval of both a state’s governor and the Secretary of the Interior. Either can block this path.

Both tribes have hired their teams of consultants and lobbyists. The decision by both a governor and an Interior secretary will take time and involve public hearings with local and community sentiment having much to do with which way the decisions go.

It could be late 2012 or early 2013 before the matter is decided. Surprise, surprise, there is an election, both for governor and for the presidency in November of 2012. Candidates for governor of both parties are keenly aware that the gaming tribes of this nation are now a major source of campaign contributions.

The Spokanes appear to have retained a veteran local team of political consultants, former Mayor Jack Geraghty and his business partner, Kerry Lynch. They have the Spokanes already well along on a strategy of emphasizing the jobs that will be generated by the endeavor at a time when the economy is flat and few jobs are to be found.

The Kalispells have hired former House Speaker Joe King and former Spokane 3rd district legislator Jeff Gombosky to represent their interests and are banking on these well connected Democrats to exercise their swack with either outgoing Governor Chris Gregoire, if she makes the decision, or the presumed Democratic nominee to be the next governor, First District Congressman Jay Inslee.

The presumed Republican nominee for governor, Attorney General Rob McKenna is not about to tip his hand in advance, either.

Also square in the bull’s eye will be Assistant Interior Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echohawk, a former Idaho attorney general and candidate for governor in 1994, who lost narrowly to Phil Batt. Given the politics of that time, Echohawk opposed expansion of Indian gaming. If the decision is made during the present administration’s time in office, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar he will rely heavily on Echohawk’s advice.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

With apologies to political consultant James Carville, who famously coined the expression “it’s all about the economy, stupid,” the future in the west is all about water, its allocation, cost and rapid depletion.

Scientists, naturalists, writers, farmers, ranchers, and politicians are all too aware of its scarcity beyond the 100th Meridian, as duly noted and popularized in the late 19th century by John Wesley Powell, famed explorer of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River and first head of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Lay on the issue of global warming and many scientists believe the arid west will become hotter and drier, accelerating the desertification process. Cities that had neither right nor common sense in their expansion, such as Phoenix and Las Vegas, are requiring ever increasing amounts of water. They willingly pay farmers and ranchers princely sums to surrender their water rights to pipelines hundreds of miles in length to slake their thirst.

This growing need for potable water has fueled the drive for more impoundments to store winter run-off and rain. The coming conflict between agricultural use versus culinary and human use is clear. Determining highest and best use will be the marketplace, not board rooms of large corporations nor the committee meeting rooms of state legislatures.

Nor does it take rocket science to predict two major aspects regarding water and the future:

1) Those that have an abundance of water, ground water or a sizable underground aquifer, are going to prosper and those that don’t are going to flounder. Thus, 100 years from now Spokane, with the vast and so far unmapped and unplumbed Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, will be a thriving city with manufacturing transplanted from California. And Las Vegas may be a mere shadow of its glory days.

2) Congress will repeal the so-called Winters Doctrine of 1908. Why? Because Congress will conclude the Supreme Court vested too much power in indigenous Native American tribes by placing their water rights “first in time” and therefore “first in right.”

I pondered all this while traveling to Fort Peck Dam and Glasgow, Montana, recently to attend a conference on the future cost of water sponsored by Montana State University’s Wheeler Institute. Along the way the highway ran beside and at times crossed the Milk River, the very river the subject of litigation that led to the so-called Winters Doctrine proclaimed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1908.

In the Winters case, lower courts ruled the law gave implied power to the federal government; “federally reserved water rights” was the key phrase which, among other things, establishes first in time rights to water even though most water is in a state’s purview. (Most states own the beds of rivers and navigable streams and sometimes their lakes, while the federal government regulates most activities especially interstate commerce upon those waters.).

Within the Interior Department various bureaus concluded that rights to water for Indian nations were established at the time tribes signed their first treaty with the U.S. government. In the Winters case, a group of ranchers and farmers who settled in and around the Milk River challenged the first in time, first in right designation for the Gros Ventre and Assinboine Indian tribes. To their stunning surprise, they lost not only in two lower courts but before the Supreme Court, 8 to 1.

Ironically, despite the Wheeler Conference’s proximity to the Milk River, no one mentioned the Winters Doctrine or its potential impact on water cost. The doctrine gives prior right and first right to all water arising on or passing through an Indian reservation.

State water departments try hard to have tribes quantify their needs so downstream allocations can then be made, especially in times of water shortages. Idaho, in fact, is going through a series of water basin adjudication processes, and in the case of the Snake River adjudication, the Nez Perce Tribe received a multi-million dollar settlement to quantify its rights.

On the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene River Basin adjudication, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe has thus far not filed its claim nor thrown out a negotiating number, but one can expect it will be hefty. As water grows scarcer in the West, bidding for unused water rights will grow astronomically. Water could turn out to be truly liquid gold for some tribes, and perhaps generate more dollars ultimately than gaming ventures.

Pessimists will look at that and conclude that history will repeat itself and the majority culture will once again figure out a legal way to extinguish an Indian right. Anyone want to make a wager and put it in a time capsule?

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

For readers who have been entertained or, hopefully, intellectually stimulated by my musings for more than a year, I have some news: Idaho’s oldest publishing house, Caxton Press of Caldwell, will be publishing a book by me.

Entitled “Cecil Andrus: Idaho’s Greatest Governor,” the book recounts an insider’s view of events that happened in the 10 years I worked for the “good, great former governor.” Elected to four terms covering 14 years with a 10-year break between the first six years and the second eight years, Andrus is without question the longest serving, most influential political practitioner to ever hold Idaho’s reins.

He is the standard against which all previous and subsequent governors will be measured. His total tenure will never be exceeded, nor will his margin of victory in the 1974 election (73 percent) ever be topped. He is considered by many to be one of the five best persons to ever serve as Secretary of the Interior.

The book describes the governor’s early years on the family farm outside Hood River, Oregon, where he was born on August 25, 1931. It also describes his teenage years, early marriage (he was 18), and service in the Navy on board a P2V Neptune patrol bomber and intel gathering aircraft during the Korean War. Few know, for example, he survived a potentially disastrous air crash.

His years as a gypo logger in northern Idaho and his election in 1960 to the Idaho State Senate from Clearwater County at the age of 29 (then the youngest person elected to the Legislature) and his years serving in the Senate also are recounted. Little has been written about these formative years and experiences.

Throughout the book I recount anecdotes from our years working together when he was governor and then Interior secretary, as well as during our business relationship at the Gallatin Group in his post-political office years. I try to help the reader understand how such an extraordinary politician emerged from such ordinary circumstances.

When a reader is finished with this book, I can only hope those that know him will say “Yup, that’s Cece.” Those that don’t at least will feel they have met and gotten better acquainted with him. Even 16 years after leaving office, according to almost all polls, Andrus remains the most popular and best known hunter/ fisherman in the state. Many believe he could easily win the governor’s chair again.

During the course of writing I had two fine editors who helped improve the manuscript. The “dean” was James E. “Jay” Shelledy, former editor of The Salt Lake Tribune and before that publisher of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Some readers may even recall Shelledy was a teacher and a coach at Kootenai High School from 1967 to 1971.

Another editor was my former business partner and friend, Marc Johnson, the Boise office managing partner at The Gallatin Group, the public affairs firm I founded in 1989. Marc edited for historical accuracy as well as style, spelling and punctuation.

Shelledy and I were not in sync on one issue. He correctly points out there is scarcely a critical word in these pages. He suggested readers will award more credibility to my observations if I detail Andrus’ few warts. While he, too, believes Andrus was a great governor, he insists that he also was human, that my credibility as an observer would be enhanced n along with the governor’s reputation, — by portraying him more plausibly as a mortal, meaning occasionally flawed.

Andrus would be the first to say he was not perfect. He saw politics as hardball and could throw a high, hard inside pitch when necessary. Shelledy has his point, but this is not an objective biography or history book. It is my recollections, anecdotes and stories as I saw them, as one who wishes to help others come to know Andrus and understand what makes him exceptional.

To me the point is he was an intelligent, compassionate, far-seeing, disciplined, crafty, competitive politician and individual, one with incredible leadership and mentoring skills. Overall, his behavior and conduct was honorable, responsible and ethical. He was proud to serve the people of Idaho and grateful for the opportunity.

He would have died before letting the people of Idaho down or betraying the love and trust of family and friends. When I told him about the book he responded “Who do you think is going to read it, Chris? There’s no sex, fraud, cheating or stealing to reveal. There’s little that was controversial, especially in the light of the passage of time.”

My response was and is that it is precisely the rarity of people like him in high office that captured and continues to fascinate people about Cecil D. Andrus.

I hope you will find the book well worth your time, interest and the modest investment of $18. It can be pre-ordered through Caxton’s store at www.caxtonprinters.com. There will be a book signing at The Paperhouse sometime in the fall.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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